Tag Archives: mid-life crisis

Sin City Hours With Henry James Or, Ambassadors Without Cause

19 Sep

It was after Natasha and I landed in Las Vegas and we were in the opulent lobby of the Wynn Hotel that I felt Henry James’ presence. He wasn’t there voluntarily. I’d channelled him. Sin City side of Encore building and skyThe Wynn is one of the more luxurious of Vegas resorts. Why did I channel James then and there? Because he was a PERFECT date for the occasion. An amused and wise observer of people who behave badly/stupidly/weakly in the face of wealth and power, a perfect gentleman himself  (never married, in the closet), and one of my favorite writers. A good dresser who never drank too much.

“Kirsten Wasson, why have you channelled me?”

“Henry. I’ve always loved you. And you need to see Vegas.”

“What is Vegas?”

“It’s a country where  Christopher Newman would naively feel at home,  Daisy Miller would love and  die,  Maggie Verver would see the terrible meaning of the beautiful, over-priced  golden bowl, and Lambert Strether would go along for the ride. (Sort of.)”

Henry looked a little tattered and worse for wear. He was pale, his collar was askew, and eyebrows excessively bushy. “I already wrote about all that.”

Henry_James_by_Sargent_1913

“But Henry,” I smoothed his lapel, “This is  Sin City!!  There’s a fake Paris, fake Venice! You’ve just gotta see it. AND you will find the particular narrative–one which involves subtle pretense, blurred moral lines, and a kind of threesome–to be just your cup of tea. Or in this case, your Blackberry Cosmopolitan.”

Henry sighed and gazed out the window at the six different swimming pools in one direction, at the gold phallic Trump tower in the other.

 

Sin City trump tower

“Look, HJ,” I was getting testy.”You OWE me. Do you have ANY idea how many times I taught The American to Freshman?”

“It didn’t pass muster with your students?”

“Let’s just say that not every eighteen-year old gets your irony, your devotion to ambivalence and ambiguity, your fascination with class bias, not to mention the obsessive attention to interior design details.”

Henry James glared at me; I shouldn’t have said that. “I mean… they did like it eventually, that’s my point. Without me there would be hundreds of young people who didn’t come to grasp what happens to Newman in Paris, not to mention why, years after you published The American,  you changed the last few lines–which revises drastically how we see Newman and his fate.”

“Oh.  Well, alright then. Sounds like you did some good. Where’s our room?”

SUCCESS OF MY LIFE, DEAR READER!

We followed Natasha who, although she has not read James,  knows how to behave like one  of his beautiful, forthright heroines with a secret– in any set of circumstances.

Sin City with Henry James NIcolle walking

“HJ,” I said, “Here’s the lowdown. This is clandestine trip. We have to be discreet.”

I then realized I was talking to the person whose face appears in the dictionary under discreet.

“You didn’t channel Oscar Wilde.” He rolled his eyes and then noticed the casino.

Sin City casino

“What on earth?” He adjusted his monocle.
“Those are slot machines, and then there’s poker and craps further back. Gambling.”

“I know what gambling is, Madame K. My grandfather was a drinker and gambler and it almost ruined my father’s life.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot.”

We were both embarrassed when we got to the room (which happened to be paid for by a man we’ll call Sergei):

 

sin city bedroom

 

I’d asked for twin beds. Henry excused himself to the bathroom, and I called the front desk and asked for another room. Then we went to the pool.

Sin City with Henry James my knees at pool

There is nothing I love more than a blazing hot day and an almost empty pool and beach chair. Not something HJ enjoys.

But he does like a cabana.

Sin City 208 Cabana

I got this particular one for him because of 208. That was my address on Pennsylvania Avenue for 18 years. Henry hid inside happily, observing, writing. He was thrilled there were crows in Vegas.

Sin City With crow in bush

Later we walked around and found St. Mark’s place:

sin city  St Mark's placeIt wasn’t exactly the place he’d written about:sin city art of shavingI quoted HJ to HJ  (Italian Hours): “Piazza San Marco is the most ornamented corner…as you sit in your gondola, the footways that in certain parts edge the canals assume to the eye of importance of a stage, and the Venetian figures strike you as members of an endless dramatic troupe.” Exactly. Especially in Vegas Piazza San Marco, where it’s all a facade, and the water is chlorinated and two feet deep.

Sin City GondolaHe and I did not rent a gondola; we went shopping.

sin city Barneys and Michael KorsIt was I who noticed first that  “Just” looked like “Lust,” but Henry was only a beat behind. While we shopped, I explained that I was a paid companion on this trip. Natasha’s friend Sergei, desiring the pleasure of her company but being occupied by by certain familial obligations  concerning his son Chad had offered me the beautiful position of accompanying Natasha, providing a dining companion during Sergei’s paternal occupations and assuring that there was a buffering presence between son, lover, and the man himself.

“That sentence is a little convoluted, Kirsten.”

“Pot. Calling. Kettle. Black. DUDE!”

I don’t need to tell you that HJ did not respond to my pointed remark. Or to being called “Dude.” Time to buy our hero a cocktail.

sin city cocktails

After a few sips of the sweet and sour concoction, my author seemed to relax, and from his bar stool he looked around us. Out one window was a topological view, a slice of Sin City.
Sin City view of pool from above

And out the other, this, whatever this is: sin city outdoors flower light “May I have have another cocktail?” asked Henry. He’d sucked his first down in seconds flat. Natasha and Sergei were having dinner together that evening, so the night was ours!

Henry James is a master of the unsaid. So I guessed what he was thinking and it had to do with:  vulgarity, the spoils of American new money, the degradation of human ethics, and probably Gilbert Osmand–the nefarious character in Portrait of A Lady (played by John Malkovich in the film.)

“I rather like Vegas,” he smiled slyly. “But really, Madame K, what are you doing here?”

“I told you, I’m Natasha’s paid companion. So she has someone to chill with, when not with Sergai. When Sergai is busy with his son.”

His eyes closed. “You said a threesome, but it’s really a couple and an extra. As in Wings of the Dove, or Portrait of A Lady, The Ambassadors, Daisy Miller, even Turn of the Screw in a sense–those twisted little children and the twisted little governess–outside, looking in.”

“Henry James, are you calling me a twisted little governess?” (I have to admit I wished he were. That would be the second SUCCESS OF MY LIFE.)

A few cocktails later….

Sin City drinks at Andrea'sThe sun had set and the fake waterfall was glowing.

SIn City water fall at nightAnd then Henry said, “You’re not the governess. You’re Maisie. You were from the beginning. Observing the adults. The watchful child.”

He was referring to What Maisie Knew, his novel about a little girl observing her parents marriage crack into a thousand shards of passion and mistake.

“I’d rather be the twisted governess.”

“I know,” said Henry fingering his cravat. “But you’re not. You tend to be in the middle of  things, but only barely involved,  teetering on a chimera of balance, until said  balance loses its ballast.”

This was not a Vegas  conversation.

“So…what are you, Henry? Freud before Freud?” It was time for this conversation to end.

“Well I’m not Christopher Newman, Madame K. I’ve been around the block a few times.”

“Oh Henry, put me to bed.”

He led me to my room, made me brush my teeth, helped me into my pjs, and kissed me on the forehead.

“Good Night Kirsten Wasson.”  He walked to the door. “There is nothing wrong with being an observer or outsider. Just take good notes.” And then he was gone.

I slept like the dead. In the morning I got up early to go find Henry James–at the cabana. But it was empty. I went to the front desk and asked if he’d checked out. There was no record of a Mr. James having stayed at in the Wynn.  I went back to the pool. Empty, so early in the day.

Sin City Empty pool closed umbrellas

I knew he’d been there, with me. We had been ambassadors together, both knowing on not knowing the subtext, both gleaning  and not the meaning of the confusing maze that is human passion, mistake, resignation, and moral/emotional/spiritual balance. At the end of The Ambassadors, Maria Gostrey speaks to the outsider/ambassador Lambert Strether, admitting that certain of his perceptions are accurate.  “It isn’t so much your being ‘right’–it’s your your horrible sharp eye that makes you so.” I lay down on a damp, chilly chaise.  Ah, the “horrible sharp” eye. Taking it all in, taking notes.

Sin City Crow on beach chairAlone at the pool, just a few crows flapping and cawing like some inarticulate moral compass. This was delicious, the way it is delicious to ready about an alienated character in a Henry James novel.

(Thank you, Dear Sergei, for a wonderful trip to the land of Vegas. And thank you, Dear HJ, for the company, insight, and for tucking me into bed. What happens in Vegas…)

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Beach Day Birthday Or, Dear Reader I Touched Ben’s Knee

30 Jul

The Place: Santa Monica. The Event: my wink-wink 39th birthday. The Objective: Sun, Fun, Friends, and Son.  I got a room at a little place called  Bayside Motel for Natasha and her daughter Katruna. It was 60’s style with white and green tiles and itsy-bitsy decks–though we didn’t get one. We didn’t care, the place reminded Natasha and me of motels where we’d stayed in the Florida Keys around Christmas when we were teenagers and drove down there with my mom.

Birthday 2014 Nic and me in dayAfter checking in, we went to the beach. When Natasha goes to the beach it’s like we are in a four-star restaurant and have to get just the right table. We need the perfect view and appropriate beach neighbors. Usually I tolerate the forty- five minute search for the our beach patch, but because it was my birthday I  just plunked down my stuff any old where and Natasha didn’t say a word. Katruna and I headed for the water and body- surfed, me screaming like a mimi. Then we made dinosaur bone sand sculptures. I’d bought the dinosaur mold in honor of my age, and Katruna was all about making sand sculpture. As you do when you are young and fun like Katruna.

birthday 2014 Katrina in the sand

Or middle-aged and immature like me.

Birthday 2014 Me in glasses

It was my birthday and I’d play in the sand if I wanted to.

Birthday 2014 dinosaur in the sand

As good ol’ Longfellow once wrote, “Lives of great men yadda yadda yadda/Sublime yadda yadda/Footprints on the the sands of time with dinosaur molds/Godzilla, and then it’s time to drink/Tequila.”

Our next stop.

Birthday 2014 Katrina and tequila

Then Natasha and Katruna gave me some beautiful gifts–including a clutch which I mistook for a glittering piece of sequined pizza. (I tried to be polite about a really weird gift.)

birthday 2014 eating purse WE HAD OODLES OF FUN THAT NIGHT. And we confused  more than a few men–a duty that we do not take lightly. At a certain point, Natasha told me to put down the glowstick, we were leaving. Natasha, you see,  is four months older than I. Prudent and wise, that one.

We trooped back to Bayside and slept like wheatgrass.

wheatgrass

In the morning, we walked around and eventually ate breakfast at a place where some guy was singing loudly at the bar about his dog. Then he paid us a compliment and tipped his hat and went back to singing about his dog. It’s like that in Santa Monica. Time to return to Beverly Hills. Thank you, Dear N and K for an amazing Birthday Girls’ Night Out!!!!!

birtHDAY 2014 N, K, ME AT WATER GRILL

After we returned to Beverly Hills, Noah picked me up and drove to Malibu for seafood.

birthday 2014 Noah licking lips in Hungry Catbirthday 2014 Noah attacking seafood stew

That boy likes his seafood. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in California!!!!

The only thing that could make such a night better would be if Johnny Depp showed up.  Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. But Ben Affleck did. Noah saw him come out of the bathroom, and then Noah sauntered by his table to make sure it was him. Ben seemed to be with his agent. They were both talking with their hands. Ben has bulked up–probably for  whatever new role he has.

I told Noah to go over and get his autograph and he said, “No way.” And then, “But you go, Mom. You love this kind of thing.” I didn’t know what he meant by “this kind of thing,” and I didn’t want to know. I walked straight across the room straight at Ben Affleck, hating and loving myself at the same time. I asked for a photo. Ben Afflck made room for me to sit next to him. Noah had the camera ready. Ben and I leaned together. His head touched mine. I was afraid–very afraid–that I was going to pee in my dress.

birthday 2014 Ben and meInstead I put my hand on his knee. I didn’t mean to but I did. Then Noah and I left.  Squealing like the last little piggy all the way home.

Noah dropped me off.  Alone with balloons, I considered the weekend.

birthday 2014 balloons and legsSun, Fun, Friends, Son. And a Star! Another year, another adventure. NOT complaining!

But, Dear Reader…Johnny?

The Hills Are Alive With The Sacred and Profane, Or: Healing and Hawking

1 Jul

Beverly Hills may be a real place but I have yet to be convinced. The kinds of things I see around me on a weekly basis seem like Greek tragedy, fairy tale, Fellini. And that’s just at my local Starbucks: A French couple, bone-thin and stylish, hiss at one another, arguing in bone-thin and stylish French, while their gorgeous fat baby, dressed in haute couture baby clothes, screams violently. The couple seems not to notice. A woman in her nineties clicks across the floor in high heels, a short sequined skirt, low-cut blouse, heavy make up. She smiles a yellow-toothed smile and is beautiful. A handsome, gay friend of mine walks in, surveys a group of young, bronzed, perfectly-cut gay men and says  “Look! The rubber version of young gay men.” Then the beautiful older woman asks me if I have a dollar.

Last week, I found myself, like Alice in Wonderland, at an estate in Bel Air, where I proceeded to hand out samples of juice. “DRINK ME,” I called out coquettishly to the assembled crowd. Well, maybe I didn’t do that. . .sometimes it’s hard to tell what I am or am not doing here. Perhaps I was standing behind my product, speaking in a chirpy but professional voice about the benefits of cold-pressed vegetable and fruit juice.
zen event me

The occasion was an event called “Zen Day In The Hills.” Actually I’ve left out part of the title because it’s the brand name of a supplement. Let’s call it “Alpha Armor.” So there I am at “Alpha Armor Zen Day In The Hills.” A gorgeous location:
zen event whole back yard

Me and my juice were wedged between a prim German woman–let’s call her Helga–selling miso paste, and a very loud and large man–let’s call him Hal–selling pendants with designs derived from “Sacred Geometry,” a subject  which Hal talked about during the afternoon. Wearing a sacred pendant, I learned, could provide “effortless three dimensional manifestation,” and “new heights of understanding and human conceptual liberation.” Hal quoted Plato: “The good, of course, is always beautiful, and the beautiful never lacks proportion.” I felt a twinge for poor Plato, at that moment rolling over in his grave. The pendants were sixty dollars, one hundred dollars with chain.

Entrance to “Alpha Armor Zen Day” cost forty-five dollars and for that one could enjoy lectures on varied and sundry topics: Astrological Predictions (I took notes on what she said about Leo’s next few weeks–love! money! spiritual peace and one-ness!), “Secret Alchemy,” “Letting Love and Prosperity Bloom” and so on. Three out of six of the speakers had the word “Celebrity” in their title, as in “Celebrity Vegan Body Builder,” or “Celebrity Life Coach and Sacred Henna Eyebrow Tint-er.” (I might have invented one of these.) There was also food and music.

zen event musicians

And mingling too, with like-minded seekers. Or at least seekers who were 98  percent alike: well-off, white, and I can say this but you can’t: lonely-looking middle-aged women. And of course services were available (for a fee): sound healing, energy massage, cell balance evaluation, Reiki, intuitive hypnotherapy.
zen event head scrub

For some reason the Thai Chi guy was the least popular of all the practitioners.
zen event tai chi guy alone
Maybe his lack of popularity had to do with his Un-Zen look. Other practitioners wore  flowy white clothing, but he looked like an insurance agent. Plus he wasn’t selling anything.

I wasn’t either, but was supplying juice samples–so I was popular. Which I enjoyed for about 4 hours. People-watching was fun; it was a hot sunny day with a hot free meal. (It surprised me that there the only vegetarian offering was a green salad. I’m very nominally a vegetarian, but it seemed to me that a Zen day shouldn’t involve eating animals.)

zen event my view of pation

About hour 5,  I admitted to Helga, I was  cranky. With the people who said “What is THIS?,” while fingering one bottle of juice after another. It said “JUICE” about a hundred places on my table. Ok, four places. And then “What is IN HERE?!” All the ingredients were listed in front of each bottle. “Anthrax!” I wanted to reply. And when, after taking four bottles earlier, one of the seekers came back and said,”Honey, Do you mind if I take just one more…?” I felt like swatting her hand and saying, “How much money do you make? Do you really NEED another free juice?” I hit my all time Zen Low when I heard a woman ask Hal about one of his sacred pendants, “What does this symbol mean?” and he replied “Uh…I don’t know about that one.” She bought it anyway.
zen event pretty pendants

Helga had heard my spiel on cold-pressed juice about 150 times, and she was willing to take over for fifteen minutes.  I left my post to wander around the property.
zen event view from

Beauty in many forms.

zen event second lady in red

zen event lady in red

(For some reason, there were a lot of Women In Red.)

On my way back I took a look in a garbage can.
zen event plastic in garbage
So much plastic. Nothing recycled. “ZEN DAY? ZEN, MY ASS,” I muttered under my breath. Helga had noticed the lack of recycling too, and she was irritated, tired, and ready to leave. Hal was selling sacred pendants hand over fist. Plato continued to roll in his grave. I got ready to go. Loading up my car with coolers and juice literature, I looked back and saw several folks dancing in the estate’s backyard, barefoot, scarves held over their head in out stretched arms. “You are too old for that shit”– again muttering (to them or to myself, I wasn’t sure.) Steering the Pruis out to Mulholland Drive, I looked around.
Mulholland drive

 

Like Alice I felt small and then large that afternoon, and had observed all kinds of characters. As if waking from a dream, or  watching the credits at the end of a Fellini film, I felt that my grip on reality has slipped away; the sacred and profane seemed  intertwined in a wondrous and disturbing geometry.

Mulholland houses sticking out

“What are we humans doing?” My third mutter of the day, and then my fourth: “Should I have bought a sacred pendant?” They were very pretty.

mulholland drive cacti view

 

The hills were singing, and the time had come for me to drive back to my little estate on Reeves.  Seeking, pendant-less, I still had a few bottles of juice in the cooler.

Remembering My Mother: “Poems And Photographs Not Needed.”

11 May

Some people will remember my mother as a young beautiful woman with a jaw line suggesting determination and more than a little resistance to rules. They might remember her Sexy Eyes Downcast–a refusal to look at the camera. Introspection.
mom so young

Many will remember her as a passionate reader and teacher. (All the while looking like Lena Horne.)
mom reading to me

I am afraid that not many will remember Audrey Dohmeyer Wasson Curley as a poet. That’s because she almost never talked about writing, publishing, her craft. I thought of her craft as the cigarette smoke after dinner, and the tap tap tap I heard on the typewriter late at night. If I couldn’t sleep (often) I’d come down and she’d make me a tuna sandwich and ask what was worrying me. Her being at the dining room table typing, crumpled paper at her feet, the scratchings on pages she’d placed on the kitchen counter–these things were just part of our life together. Mom and Kir on Pennsylvania Ave.

mom poem

Fifteen years ago she died unexpectedly. I was on a plane coming to see her because she’d not been feeling well, but Mom was hardly seriously ill–as far as we knew. She’d collapsed in her kitchen and then, barely conscious, called an ambulance. Emergency room for one night and then they let her out; she called a cab to get home. Something wrong with her heart. By then I was on my way. She died at home-hours before I got there.

When I decided to change my life a year and a half ago, one of the few things I threw into the Prius was a folder of Audrey’s poems that I’d found while packing up. I didn’t really know what the folder was. I mean, I’d read some of her poems, and knew she’d published a little bit… But last week I looked more closely. I never knew she had a poem published in Art Journal.

Mom's published poem
And the folder was jam-packed full of poems, one onion skin sheet after another. One about the marriage to my dad, and the cat “Fatty” that survived that relationship:
“Lean, tough and nasty. How we respected her violence,/learned ornithology and swooped in/to save her victims/And by the time we killed/the marriage she was slow, striking/out from a secret place under the table/ to rake any thighs available…”

Poems about her romantic life after my dad–one about being on a picnic with a new lover (Dan,who would become my stepfather):
“As I scuttle for shelter/from irony in the scrubby grove,/history that wets the world/and fear of love/he shows me a place/stripped dry enough for hunger,/ wonder sharp as a new small stone.”
Mom and Dan
Poems about art, teaching, birdwatching. One of her later poems is about the grandson with whom she fell in love, entitled, “Noah Daniel, First Birthday”:
“Our dearest men/are ageless. Look at you, Noah….Your pose prefigures,/(time runs both its ways)/Dan’s restive stance/face reflective in the mirror…”
Noah was six when she died. The last line of this poem is:
“I see you, Noah,/not so many birthdays hence/hand on jutted teenaged hip/checking out the water/looking to step in.”

Noah looks a lot like Audrey.
Noah older headshot better version

I knew Audrey was an amazing mother, teacher, single woman (in 1969? Not Easy), and someone who wrote poetry. I just didn’t realize that she was a serious artist. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t either. That wasn’t her style.

So, as they say: IN CONCLUSION. My mom ended a poem called “Aesthetics” with this:

“The Earth itself remembers./Poems and photographs/will not be needed as monuments/to moments we have been.”
Poems and photos not needed? I am so grateful for both her photos and poems.

I haven’t quoted lines from the poems that my mom wrote about me. I can hear her: “Oh God no, Kir! For a mother’s day piece? Hideously tacky.” Audrey still guides me. Away from self-indulgence.

But please allow me to quote a few lines from one of the many poems I’ve written about her:

(I had a dream while selling my Ithaca house; Audrey appeared, wanted to take a walk. She was annoyed that I was aging.)

“My tall mother, dead and impatient in turtleneck
and short skirt, hiking the marsh while I try to sell
an old house. She’s speaking of melting, the ground soft:
‘Almost everything takes forever, you know.’ Then
she spots a green shoot, a white bud: ‘A snowdrop. Look.'”

As I know her, Audrey is on the look out. She’s got her eye on art, birds, the word, and love.
She’s “checking out the water/looking to step in.”

mom in seattle
Here: a month before she died.
Happy Mother’s Day, Dear Reader. In some way or other-Honor your mom!

Easter Blues, Easter Dues

21 Apr

Me, Sad Bunny Close Up
Can’t explain it, just not feelin’ it (Easter). Or feeling it, but in all the wrong places…remembering dying eggs with my mom. Will never do that again–haven’t for 15 years. Hiding baskets with little plastic toys from CVS for Noah. That one year–he was four–when he confessed to looking out the window to see where I was hiding things in the yard. That’ll never happen again. Easter Past Writ Large. Which is stupid because all around me there are so many beautiful signs of life blooming.

palm fruit outside my apartment

Holidays do this to me…they highlight the past, the lost, ghosts.

skeleton on egg

So which came first–chicken or egg? Depression because I’m thinking about the past? Or already kind of depressed, and that chicken leads to the egg of the past? Wait. Should depression be represented by a chicken? The past by an egg? No! Egg=renewal. Chicken=”spring chicken,” something to grill, something that is a bird but doesn’t really fly. Now *that* works; depression is definitely the opposite of flying.

Well, here’s how my Easter went: I pulled myself out of the Slough of Spring Despond and went to pick up Noah. He was wearing a bunny shirt.

Noah in Playboy shirt

That tweaked my Easter Angst. Then he assembled the chair that Elizabeth so generously bought me some weeks ago, that I hadn’t been able to put together. (Ok, I didn’t even try.)
Me, New Chair

Then he filled my Scottster (bike) tires with air.

Noah fixes tire

Then we walked around Beverly Hills and looked at people in their “Sunday Best.” Everyone seemed ready for Ascension. Or Fire and Brimstone? Something. Noah practiced his new monologue. I felt the cobwebs in my brain become less gluey, the anvil in my heart lighten.
violin lady

Drove Noah back to his apartment and then went to Natasha’s. Her good cheer is infectious, and it’s not even annoying. Which can be annoying.
NIc on Easter
We made some LA eggs–pretty, happy, almost wearable, distinctly inedible.
EASTER EGGS

Then it was ok to come back to my little place; Easter was over. Gabby, the lovely 85-year old woman who lives down the hall, called out, “Happy Easter, Kirsten!” I waved to her. She wears lipstick every day.

I should have gone to church this weekend. Or, last week I could have held a Passover Seder. (Noah knows the prayers!) Neither ceremony was a tradition with which I was raised (vehemently secular family). But ritual frames the time of year, the history, the astronomical/spiritual moment with meaning. Just choose, Kirsten, one of the above! (Double entendre intended.)

Next year: an egg hunt? A face lift? A trip to Jerusalem?
At least some prayer. Oh. I can do that right now. Thank heavens.

Dove in tree

So here’s to honoring the egg of the now, and the next, Dear Reader!
Easter Egg of Life

Back On The Road: Wilshire Boulevard, Scott Sportster, Biking Past And Present

12 Apr

ciclavia me with bike I got a bike! (Never mind that Peggy and Carol and I were actually looking to rent a car. But low and behold, behind Enterprise Rentals there was  a hole in the wall  with used–possibly stolen?–bikes, and while Peggy and Carol got a car, I negotiated the hole-in-the-wall-bike-guy down sixty bucks!) My Scott Sportster is black and white, and I don’t have to squirm uncomfortably when I swing one of my hip replacements over the seat. It’s the first Girl Bike I’ve ever owned.

AND THEN I found out about CICLAVIE: April 6th, Wilshire Boulevard is closed to cars for several miles, and you can ride or walk from Beverly Hills to Downtown. Talk about an antidote to LA LA LAND AUTO CULTURE! And talk about my virgin ride. Well, let’s don’t talk about it. Let’s just enjoy the photos: The Gaylord–a classic line of text in the sky. ciclavie Gaylord Most people were riding together in groups–families, couples, friends. Lots of people had music blaring from small CD players. ciclavie girls in pink I was caught up in the fray and so happy to be on my new bike. I was also feeling alone. You have a date tonight, I reminded myself.  We made our way into KoreaTown. ciclavie Karoke And through some hybrid neighborhoods where the aromas in the air spell WEST COAST NORTH AMERICA. ciclavie Mexican chicken, Thai, Sushi That I was flying on my new (used) Scott Sportster as if we’d been together forever, charging into Downtown LA with thousands of other bike riders made my heart sing. I remembered riding my bike  in Champaign-Urbana in the 1970’s–to the swimming pool, to my job at Lincoln Square, to friends’ houses. Many of the streets were  made of thick, red bricks. Bumpy. There were also bike rides out to the farms, just blocks from my house. Cows, soybeans, the white square houses of farmers.  Decades later, riding my bike in LA, I am Midwestern Girl singing the song of the open road on Wilshire Boulevard. . .whodathunkit!?ciclavie riding through parkPedaling in the hot sun, I remembered my son Noah becoming a serious biker at 14, riding 40 miles a day on a regular basis. It scared me because of his Type 1 Diabetes. Of course he carried juice and a granola bar and a phone–but the phone didn’t work out there on those Finger Lakes roads. At first I watched the clock the whole time he was gone. He always came back. He entered races, and won first or second place.

He biked a hundred miles around Cayuga Lake in the local AIDS-Benefit ride. I drove around the lake, meeting him at pit stops. He was one of two of the youngest riders to finish. The next year he wanted to do it again, and  didn’t want me to follow him. I had one of those parent epiphanies: this is not your journey; it’s his. (I followed him anyway.)ciclavie Bradley This is Bradley. (His mom let me take the picture.) Bradley channels  Evil Knievel, Lance, and Superman. And he smiles a lot, though NOT for the camera. I also met Minerva (who smiles on and off camera.) cic la vie Asian girl At a certain point, I realized my front tire was a little flat, so I stopped to get it inflated. ciclavie bike repair   Wouldn’t you know, as the friendly pump guy filled the tire with air, the inner tube broke. He replaced it for free. I was on the open road again! I started to think about time. ciclavie stones in air Actually not as poetic as all that. Just remembering I was supposed to call my date at 5, and then we’d meet up at 6. I felt dread. I didn’t know why. ciclavie DEAD END I realized I would rather see a friend, talk to Noah on the phone, watch a movie alone, take a walk–than have this date. He is a kind, warm, attentive guy. What’s wrong with you? ciclavie tar pit On my way home, passing La Brea Tar Pits–the metaphors were piling up. I just don’t feel the urge to see him. IMG_1464 I decided to call him and suggest another night. Right, wrong, don’t know. How important is chemistry–at this age? I think I need it.

The whole trip–my virgin ride on the Scottster (my bike and I had become close so nicknames were in order)–was a mere ten miles. But it had carried me somewhere new, and memories of bike riding had emerged from the tar pits of my brain.

A decade ago, I followed Noah’s lead and bought a serious bike and rode it regularly. He and I did two triathlons together. He kicked ass.  I was just glad to finish.

ciclavie skateboard and push pole

Toward the end of CICLAVIE, I saw this guy, one of a group of young people on a skateboard, pushing themselves with poles. Talk about Hybrid Cultural Go!

Aim. Push Off. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Short and long strides, feel the road and fly. Make sure someone knows where you are. On this journey.

Secrets Of The Olympic Spa: Mugwort Pool, Salt Sauna, Sisterhood, My Tattoo

4 Apr

On the eve of my departure to L.A., Ithaca Elizabeth told me that I HAD to go to the Korean Olympic Spa in KoreaTown. “They scrub the bejeezus out of you. You come out like a new woman!” she extolled. The new woman part sounded good, but strangers in their underwear  scrubbing my entire naked body didn’t sound like one of the reasons I was going to L.A. Upon moving here, I met a second Elizabeth, and she ALSO told me that Olympic Spa was a Must Do. Two dear friends who don’t know each other with the same name telling me  to go to the Olympic Spa…it was a conspiracy, surely. Some secret Elizabeth society thing.

 

Olympia Spa

I do what I’m told, especially by the secret society folks. But I didn’t want to do it alone. So I had to wait for my former student Melissa to come to visit. She’s a few decades younger than I, took four of my classes, quite possibly admires and respects me. An easy mark. I pretended that I’d already been to the spa: “Oh it’s just heaven, they scrub the bejeezus out of you and you come out like a new woman.” Melissa was a bit worried about the hygiene  aspect. I reassured her, “It’s so clean. They bleach the bejeezus out of everything.” What did I know? One thing I did know: all clients are naked, all the time. No fuzzy bathrobes and slippers. Both Elizabeths had told me that. This had to be kept from Melissa; all that nudity might be just too weird for my fine young friend.

Melissa on bday

But when we walked in, she read the policy sign: Women Only, No one under 14, Swimsuits are not permitted.

“No swimsuits? But there are robes, right?”

Our names written down, and the fee was paid.

“Not really.”

Into the locker room we went. Suddenly I was nervous. Melissa and I were friends now, but once upon a time I had graded her papers, and she took notes while I talked about cultural representations of self. How would she respect me after we walked around naked together, dipping in and out spa pools? I am not ashamed of my body (well, most bits) but then again when you’re naked, you are naked. You don’t need to be a literature professor to know that means that you are naked. No one is thinking about that brilliant point you made about Emerson’s transparent eyeball when you are hoisting yourself indelicately out of the mugwort pond. Melissa and I solved the problem by just not looking at each other below the neck.

Well there we were, trying out the various versions of whirlpools and ponds in a dark steamy room with about forty other women. Women who were large, small, dark, light, hairy, shaved, old, young, in between, naked all. And believe it or not, after a few minutes I stopped judging. She’d be gorgeous if she worked on her core; she has the best breasts I’ve ever seen. . .my stupid little mind just stopped that shit. I felt a sisterhood. It wasn’t sexy the way men might imagine it. No one was being sexy. We were soaking. We were quiet.   Spa sisterhood.

I thought about  the female communing going on. Some mother daughter pairs, some friend pairs, a lot of women on their own, sitting next to other women on their own. Comfortable. Peaceful. I haven’t seen a lot of that. Much of the bonding LA women do is  about manicures, talking about men, shopping, shopping for men.

By contrast, male bonding. . .is rarely about appearance,  or women. Guys play or watch a sport together, right? Then there are  those secret male societies. . .the Masons, Skull and Bones, Bohemian Grove. There are rituals, there is networking, there is money, and  there is power. And at the super exclusive club-for-the-filthy-rich Bohemian Grove they pee on trees.

I was at Bohemian Grove once, as a guest obviously–“Ladies Day.” The men refrained from al fresco relief, but the networking and power and money were in evidence. Every conversation under those big old (peed on) Redwood trees seemed to have a message encoded in it–an  old boy “I got your back, and I got your balls heh-heh” kind of thing. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry. I was told not to write about it.

For Melissa and me, the nakedness seemed to signal the end of the Teacher/Student relationship and to welcome in the Friends, Naked configuration (we were still looking at each other neck-up, only). It came time to have the bejeezus scrubbed out of us, so we went to our separate scrub bed cubicles and lay down for the Scrub Ladies to do their thing. Dear Reader, if you’ve never been, you can’t quite imagine how great it is. You’re being treated like a baby, handled and tossed about with care, like a little naked person who doesn’t know what’s good for her. Who can only lie there and be scrubbed and turned over and scrubbed again. And then there is the head massage. It’s about as close as I’ve come to serenity.

Forty minutes later, we met in the salt sauna, dazed and blissed out.

“THAT was FANTASTIC, Melissa breathed.

“Yeeeaaaaaaah,” I breathed back.

“I like your tattoo,” she said, something I never thought I’d have heard from the mouth of that sweet Freshman I met in Intro to American Literature several years back. Especially since I don’t have a tattoo.

“What?!” I squawked.

“Wait, weren’t you lying in the next cubicle? Wasn’t that you?”

“No. I was in cubicle at the very end.”

“So you don’t have a heart tattoo on your ass?”

I  looked at her with my You-Didn’t-Do-The-Reading Professor glare.

“Oh! Is that why you weren’t answering me while I talked to you! That woman looked like you from behind. She had a tattoo.”

“OK, I know we’re friends now, but Melissa, I am NOT  your friend with a heart tattoo  on her ass.”

“Right. Got it.”

“If I had a tattoo, it would be a quote from Dorothy Parker, for God’s sake.”

We crawled out of the sauna and drank some herbal tea and shared seaweed soup. Spa Sisterhood.

Nods to the Elizabeths and their secret society. I’ll bet they have matching tattoos.

Please share an unusual bonding story!?  That came out wrong–keep it clean, folks, this is family de-tox show.